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Despite extensive grant funding, Sackets Harbor sees additional costs for trail project

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SACKETS HARBOR — The village is facing just under $70,000 in extra costs for its approximately three-mile stone-bed trail dedicated to the bicentennial of the War of 1812, despite receiving federal stimulus funds totaling $495,000.

At the village Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night, the village approved a construction plan that would see its out-of-pocket costs total about $67,000, much of which comes from materials for portions of the trail on village property it will build on its own. A late addition of $50,000 in contingency funds to the village’s 2012-13 budget will mean it will absorb only about $17,000 of unplanned expenses from the construction of the trail.

Much of the discussion during the meeting centered on how to balance the cost of using a contractor to complete work on four parcels of village property where the trail would cross with the available time left during the year for the village and town of Hounsfield’s work crews.

Contracted work will be done by Acts II Construction, Gouverneur.

Earlier Tuesday, David W. Altieri, the village’s heritage area director who has overseen the project’s development, said the high project costs were related to costly federal requirements along with an unexpected cost of administrative and engineering work.

“Are these costs reasonable?” Mr. Altieri said. “They’re higher than expected. It’s upsetting. ... it’s an eye-opener.”

The project’s original proposal was crafted about four years ago under the assumption that the village would pay 20 percent of a grant worth $100,000.

“At the time we put the budget together, those costs were deemed to be reasonable,” Mr. Altieri said.

The project proposal instead would be fully funded through federal stimulus funds. Despite the funding increase, the change came with different and more expensive standards through the federal Department of Transportation. Though Mr. Altieri said he’s filed many grant proposals for the village in the past, this was the first with DOT.

“We were told after we got the grant that it would be surprising if we could do it for that kind of budget,” he said.

While Mr. Altieri said the department was helpful, he said its regulations added several costly additions to the project’s budget.

As one example, the department required the purchase of a geotextile underlayment for the path, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the bill.

Inventory as small as gravel also was regulated, with the village able to purchase the product only from department-approved sources.

“It’s got to be done in a very specific way, and to a very high standard, and that increases the costs for both design and construction,” Mr. Altieri said.

Much of the planning for the trail was done by Lu Engineers, Pittsford, which designed the trail, and through a subcontractor acquired the necessary easements for the project to proceed. Multiple calls left Monday and Tuesday with Lu Engineers’ project manager for the trail were not returned.

The companies’ work alone cost about $129,000, leading to a total administrative cost of about $212,000, 43 percent of the grant funding total.

“We didn’t anticipate that much going out,” village Mayor F. Eric Constance said.

The administrative cost of the project was met Tuesday night with some disappointment from Gary M. Gibson, chairman of the village Planning Board.

“When you get administrative costs like that, that’s obscene,” Mr. Gibson said. “We’re not building a superhighway.”

Mr. Gibson also expressed concern about the costs of maintaining the trail, a figure that no village official had readily available. Village engineer Kris D. Dimmick estimated the annual cost of upkeep to be about $1,000 to $2,000.

Contracted work on the project, which includes areas near the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, is expected to begin shortly.

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